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Prawn Again

Prawn Again

by Andy Davis / 20.08.2009

When you finally get to see District 9 next week, the thing you need to keep in mind is that when it was released in the US it knocked GI Joe off the top of the box office. On the same weekend it smoked the Eric Bana vehicle Time Traveler’s Wife and the new Jeremy Piven flick The Goods and relegated Disney’s Japanese animation Ponyo and the Vanessa Hudgens vehicle Bandslam into 5th and 6th place respectively. D-9 made 37.5 million dollars in it’s opening weekend. And it cost 30 million to make. Not bad for a boytjie from Jozi and a fat Kiwi, huh? Kicking ass and taking numbers in tinseltown. I think we can finally declare that South African film has arrived as little more than a blip on Hollywood’s radar. But more than any of these chest thumping moments of national zeal and bald jingoism, the thing that impressed me most is that Neill Blomkamp has managed to do it with a film that is totally South African. There are no seppos (a term taken from the Cockney rhyming slang septic tank, yank) mangling our accent. There’s no Taye Diggs pretending to be black. We’ve got a hero based on the sheltered employment postal clerk you’ll remember from growing up in the 1980s. Sharlto Copley has played the archetype of all Van Der Merwe jokes as the protagonist in a Hollywood sci-fi action flick. And it works. I cried tears of pride in my popcorn.

And let’s also take into account that Johannesburg, with all it’s dusty bitterness and hope mixed up together; it’s rough edges, brute materialism and gritty heart, is a fantastic backdrop for a big, fast paced, adrenal-squeezing action-packed sci-fi flick. I mean living in South Africa is a kind of surreal sci-fi experience most of the time anyway.


And Joburg, the black, beating heart of South Africa is also a poignant place to set a story so dripping in meaning and symbolism. For well over 400 years the vast majority of human beings have treated each other like shit here. And why would we treat aliens, who look like biped prawns, any differently? That’s what’s so realistic about D-9. If aliens were to arrive and let’s pretend they didn’t totally fuck us up with their advanced weaponry and take our planet, and let’s pretend we managed to dominate them, well the scenario that District 9 creates is pretty spot on. We’d stick them in a camp, fence them off, fuck them up, experiment on them and totally misunderstand them, on purpose. Hell we wouldn’t even try. And on this level D-9 makes it’s most salient points. Because you could so easily swap out the “prawn” for any number of Malawians, Congolese and Zimbabwean African diasporic economic refugees – especially in light of our recent history of disgraceful xenophobic violence.

Van Der Merwe Kicking Ass

So it’s not just the fact that it’s a nut-grabbing action flick with amazing special effects, funny in-jokes, a rich vein of black humour and an undercurrent of meaning as thick and swelling as the Zambezi… But more than any of that, what impresses me most about District 9 is that the Americans have jumped on the bandwagon and supported this film. They’ve enjoyed it. So in one fell swoop Blomkamp has fucked in the eye anyone who has ever told us that we need Americans to play the major South African roles in Hollywood flicks – for commercial reasons. You are the impimpi of our culture, you dogs. The vast majority of movies that have tried that have tanked. D-9 proves that the Seppos are not such dumb hicks, that they can understand our accents and relate to our stories. We don’t have to dumb-down and creatively compromise our culture for broader global appeal. In fact we’d do better to keep it real. There is no catch 22. That was a myth. Neill Blomkamp take a bow, standing on the shoulders of Tsotsi, you’ve officially blown the glass ceiling. A golden age of South African film should now follow.

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  1. Jon says:

    And, damnit how could I leave them out, Mike and his paint crew!

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  2. Andy says:

    Jon, put down the bong… what are you talking about?

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  3. Jason says:

    Digging that after Brendan’s reminders of how much we’ve been bum plundered by Hollywood we actually have a flick that pokes them all in the eye.

    Good on Neil. Watched an interview with him the other day, and wondered if he’s live in America a while – he seems to be pulling a Charlize ‘The – Ron’ on us. Is he now “Blowm – Camp”?

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  4. Jason says:

    Shit – I meant Brandon. Andy…! fix it!

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  5. Roger Young says:

    Blomkamp emigrated to Canada with his folks when he was eighteen. Kept coming back here on and off for jobs and friends for last ten or so years but he lives in Vancouver. For now.

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  6. Jason says:

    Ah, thanks Rog.

    You still owe me some pants. Beers on you next time.

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  7. Andy says:

    Roger owes you pants… I got to hear this story

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  8. Prawn says:

    So just to get this straight, the Americans love us, which means we’ve fucked the Americans in the eye?

    Andy, a golden age of South African film (gag gag gag, do you really MEAN that?) will follow when we stop getting hard-ons for what mainstream Hollywood thinks of us. This is on a par with getting excited about Anneline Kriel winning Miss World.

    I’m afraid there’s more than a tinge of excitable provincialism in statements like “D-9 proves that the Seppos are not such dumb hicks, that they can understand our accents and relate to our stories. We don’t have to dumb-down and creatively compromise our culture for broader global appeal.”

    Relate to our stories?! Not dumbed down?! Good god, man! What film were you watching? The D-9 I saw was a creature feature with a Moral, making its point with all the subtlety of a sledge-hammer applied to a kneecap (“Haaaaaaang about…waaaaaaiit a minute….those prawns are like…like…Holy crap! Those prawns are like BLACK PEOPLE! This is Art!”).

    By thinking that this is our story that the Seppos have embraced you’ve revealed that the Borg have finally won and TInseltown has completed the colonization of your mind. Andy, this is THEIR story, simply grafted onto Joburg. Aliens, Andy! Aliens! And big fuckoff blasters! And plot holes! And assumptions! And stodgy dialogue! Sound and fury signifying nothing, Andy! It’s Hollywood, baby! They invented the perfect Sci-Fi 120-minute lobotomy, and truly it is a thing of beauty, but all D-9 has done is copy it really well.

    A really solid tentpole movie, and very lekker for director and star, but let’s take a cold shower, mkay?

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  9. Previously Extraterrestrial says:

    Bravo Prawn.

    To truly be our story I think the answers to the following should be tackled iin the sequel:
    What will the street names be? (Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte Crescent, Large Magellanic Cloud Road) Are there mass emmigrations of Humans to the Polarissima Australis galaxy? Do the prawns put the sensual back into nonconsensual? Does cat food become a delicacy because the masses deem it so?

    The Questions. The Horror. The Horror. (played out in reverse for Zeno…of course)

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  10. Andy says:

    Ok ok, I’m prone to spontaneous bouts of over-amp. But i dug the flick. It’s a big budget SA sci-fi 120 min lobotomy that’s doing really well on the global stage, without all the weighty angst of Tsotsi, Jerusalema, et al. It was a breath of fresh air that i may have mistaken for a revolution. Still a great film. Total immersion. Which is all you can really ask from the cinema.

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  11. Anthony says:

    Hamfisted political allegory in a film which degenerates by its third act into faux-Hollywood action bullshit (including the line, “Go on without me”)? Gimme a fucking break – transplanting a laughable Hollywood narrative, with indelicate and malformed parallels to our history, into Soweto doesn’t signal any sort of ‘glass ceiling shattering’… How like you eyes-wide-shut ‘local-is-lekker’ loons to latch onto this rubbish.

    By the way, in your vindication of the yank’s mentality, remember that the film that D-9 knocked off the top spot was G.I. Joe – we’re hardly talking an intellectual stalwart. Yanks apparently just like guns and aliens a little more than a one-man military narrative this year. So the fuck what?

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  12. Fulsome says:


    Actually, I can (and do) ask for a lot more than ‘total immersion’ from the cinema – otherwise, you could be toyi-toying just as loudly for Independence Day or The Day After Tomorrow etc.

    I was incredibly unimpressed by this film. They had an American budget, so the special effects etc. are par for the course, and nothing unexpected. Hopefully, in time, when more of these adequately-budgeted blockbusters start pouring head-first out of South Africa’s arsehole, people will come to realise how completely conventional and mainstream this film actually is.

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  13. Nick Frost says:

    Don’t venture too far up your own asses.

    District 9 is no different from any other action/sci-fi film so if you’re expecting more, rather don’t, and be pleasantly surprised, than DO and be disappointed. It’s an excellent movie intended to entertain and it did so very well.

    If you’re looking for a deep, hidden play on the xenophobia issue and a real-life analogy of the inherent racism and unwillingness to welcome neighbours in South Africa then you’ve got the wrong movie.

    Let me clarify this. This movie is about ALIENS. NOT Zimbabweans. Give ’em all an American accent and blow up Parlement and we’ll have another Independence Day. Nothing more, nothing less.

    If you’re complaining and looking for something more, go read a fucking book.

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  14. […] I finally got to see the Hollywood film, “District 9,” Friday night. [Despite the claims of South Africa's media and its boosters,  director Neill Blomkamp is a product of the Canadian […]

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  15. […] I finally got to see the Hollywood film, “District 9,” Friday night. [Despite the claims of South Africa’s media and its boosters,  director Neill Blomkamp is a product of the […]

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